What’s your limit?

I guess I could try to rationalize and say I’m just a little tipsy, a little buzzed. But that wouldn’t be completely honest. Right now, I am drunk.

Since May of 2009, the impaired driving laws in Ontario contain a provision that includes a warning zone between 0.05 and 0.08 blood alcohol percentage. If your BAC is in this warning zone you face some serious consequences, despite not having a BAC above the more recognized legal limit of 0.08.

A first-time offender who blows in the warning range has their licence suspended for three days and must pay a $150 “Administrative Monetary Penalty.” If you’re caught in the warning range a second time within five years, the punishment increases to a seven-day licence suspension, a mandatory alcohol education program and a $150 fine. A third infraction results in a 30-day licence suspension, another mandatory alcohol treatment program, a $150 fine, and you must have a ignition interlock installed on any car that you will drive for six months. This device prevents the car from being started without blowing into a built-in blood alcohol screening device with a pre-set limit of 0.02. This is all without blowing over the “legal” limit of 0.08.

What’s most worrisome is that these roadside licence suspensions cannot be appealed and stay on your record for ten years.

A person’s blood alcohol concentration can depend on a number of factors including fatigue, how much you have eaten (and how recently you’ve eaten it), how quickly you’ve drank and of course how big you are. I’m 25, 5’8” and 175 lbs.

All of this is to say that without actually measuring your BAC with a device that is similar to the ones that the police use, it’s almost impossible to predict what your BAC is, based on how drunk you feel.

To put this to the test, I ordered a breathalyzer online. It’s certified by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so its results can be trusted to be accurate. I had a big lunch today with some friends. We’ve got pork chops and potatoes in the oven and broccoli on the stove. I crack open a beer. Muskoka Craft Lager, 4.8% alcohol.

Halfway through dinner I pop the top off my second beer. It’s only been 15 minutes since I opened the first one but I’m thirsty okay? Because I’ve been eating the taste of alcohol doesn’t seem to be overwhelming in my breath so I power up the breathalyzer. I’m not feeling buzzed or anything at this point, but I’d like to know where my BAC is.

An utterly disappointing 0.01%.

I go back to my dinner and before I know it I’ve downed beer number two, along with the rest of my meal. I clear the table, and try the breathalyzer again. I’m feeling a little bit warm, certainly more relaxed than I was when I got home. The breathalyzer powers up again. I blow 0.01% again. I’m pretty surprised so I try again. 0.02% Ha! So I try a third consecutive time: 0.01% again and the same on the fourth try.

I relent a little, and go make some coffee. I pour my coffee into a mug but not before filling it halfway with Bailey’s first. I finish two of these, have a glass of water and return to my breathalyzer. I’m feeling a serious buzz now. Two beers and about 8oz of Bailey’s in just under an hour is more than I’m used to drinking on a weeknight. I’m pretty lightheaded and I’m pretty sure I can hear my heartbeat.

As the breathalyzer powers up, I start guessing what my BAC will be. I figure somewhere between 0.05 and 0.08, right in that warning zone. I think about whether or not I would consider driving at this point, and I have no doubt about it. No way. Maybe in a couple of hours, but not now. After what feels like an eternity the breathalyzer is ready.

I blow into it four times in a row and get the same reading: 0.04% BAC. I can’t believe it. If all drivers were at this level of sobriety I think there would be as many cars in the ditch as on the road.


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